The proposed agreement was born of a federal lawsuit filed in 2014 by death row inmates who claimed the state’s execution procedures violated their constitutional rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.
The inmates filed the lawsuit one month before the execution of convicted murderer Joseph Wood, who gasped and snorted for air for nearly two hours after he received 15 doses of a cocktail of the sedative midazolam and hydrocodone. Wood was a plaintiff in the suit.
If the new agreement is approved by the inmates who brought the suit and U.S. District Judge Neil Wake, the Department of Corrections cannot make last-minute changes to the drugs it will use in an execution, and it must inform the inmate in advance to allow time to challenge any changes. The agreement also bars the state from using expired drugs.
Dale Baich, a federal defender and an attorney for the inmates, said the settlement ensures that future executions in Arizona are safer.
“Arizona has an unfortunate history of problematic execution practices and executions that raise great concern, but today the state is taking appropriate steps to decrease the risk that prisoners will be tortured to death,” Baich said in a statement.
The agreement will also allow witnesses to see more of the execution procedure.
“This increased access will provide better oversight and accountability,” Baich said.
The new procedures were made public and published last month by the Department of Corrections, which had already agreed in December never to use midazolam in its executions. The state’s stock of the sedative ran out last year, and it could not find another supplier.
Another lawsuit, filed by a coalition of news organizations, is still pending. In that suit, news outlets argued they had a right to view the administration of lethal injection drugs and to know the source of the drugs used in the execution.
In December, U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow found that news organizations should be able to see the administration of the drugs since the Department of Corrections already allows witnesses to see the insertion of IV lines.
“If ADC [the Arizona Department of Corrections] can maintain the anonymity of its personnel while focusing a camera on the IV placement site, there is no reason it cannot likewise focus a camera on the area in the chemical room in which syringes are injected into the IV line,” Snow wrote in his opinion.
Snow said it would be premature to find the outlets had a First Amendment right to know the source of the drugs, however.
The state has not carried out an execution of a death row inmate since Wood’s death in 2014.